Becoming Orthodox

As you read this, you are being invited to consider the saving life offered by God within the Orthodox Church. Twenty-first century Christianity, to be fully valid, must have unbroken links with first century Christianity. Only in the Orthodox Faith can be found the continuity and consistency which preserve these links.

One should become an Orthodox Christian because, on the basis of Holy Scripture and the continuous history of two thousand years of Christianity, the Orthodox Church represents the fullest and most correct expression of the original Faith taught by our Lord Jesus Christ and inaugurated by the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.

In the past, when traditional Christians were considering becoming members of a church, they either knew nothing about the Orthodox Faith, or believed that its cultural associations were too foreign for them. While it is true that some Orthodox Christians continue to identify with their past cultural heritage, it is also true that Orthodoxy has, increasingly, become a part of American cultural life. Culture, however, in whatever form, is not the substance of the Church which was founded on the day of Pentecost. The substance of the Church is the Way, the Truth, and the Life of Jesus Christ. We need to start with Jesus, if we twentieth century seekers for truth are to discover the Church He founded.

Jesus’ active public ministry lasted fewer than three years. During that time, He established the beginnings of the Church, giving the apostles authority to represent Him. After His Ascension into Heaven and the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples at Pentecost, the apostles strove to build up the Church, extending the authority of Jesus to others who succeeded them in teaching, worship, and leadership. In the Acts of the Apostles (2:42) we read that the early Church, devoted themselves to the apostle’s teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and the prayers.

As time went on, these four qualities of the Christian community life took the forms of:

  • the New Testament and the Nicene Creed,
  • the apostolic ministry of Bishops, Priests, and Deacons,
  • celebrating the Eucharist, and
  • other sacramental actions which strengthened their union with God.

For centuries, wherever in the world the Christian Faith spread, there existed a basic continuity and consistency in the life and teachings of the unified Church. After the first thousand years of the Christian Era, however, two major disruptions, originating in the West, shattered the unity of Christendom. The first disruption was caused by the insistence of the Roman Papacy that it had universal jurisdiction over the entire Church, a claim which violated the concept of collegial leadership which characterized early Christianity. The resultant separation of the Papacy from the traditional Church, led later, in subsequent centuries, to its unilateral promulgation of new and previously unknown doctrines. This, in turn, resulted in the second disruption to Christian unity, known as the Protestant Reformation. The Roman Church’s excesses and unscriptural claims caused an over-reaction on the part of the Protestant Reformers resulting in doctrinal distortion and subtraction from the original and traditional body of Christian beliefs and practices.

Only the Orthodox Church was able, through the grace of God, to retain the fullness of Christian Faith, worship and life through the centuries without addition, subtraction or distortion.

Today, in America, the Orthodox Church is represented by various jurisdictions. In recent years, one of these jurisdictions, the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese, has become the home for many traditional Christians. This Archdiocese, under the Patriarchate of Antioch, is a part of one of the four great and ancient Patriarchal Churches of world Orthodoxy. We read about its origins in the Acts of the Apostles (11:26) where the followers of Jesus living in Antioch were the first to be called Christians.

The Archdiocese, recalling that historical Orthodoxy has had many liturgical expressions, and that most Western Christians are unfamiliar with Eastern forms of worship has, in recent years, authorized the use of a Western Rite Liturgy. For many people, who are seeking to return to the historical Church and yet wish to retain a Western manner of worship, this authorization has great appeal. Consequently, in various American cities, there are today a number of Orthodox congregations under the Antiochian Archdiocese, whose approved Liturgy is that of the Western Rite.

At a time when so many traditional Christians are unhappy and confused by the moral and doctrinal changes taking place within their churches, when so many denominations seems to be rewriting and adjusting their theology in order to comply with contemporary social attitudes and trends, Orthodox Christianity offers an alternative.

As Father Thomas Hopko, an Orthodox Professor of Theology, has said:

“The Church can only be the Church if it is in real, literal, historical continuity with the Apostles. There is a ‘body’ in history that has one faith, one worship, a traceable development and continuity which began historically with the Apostles. If there is no Church which has the fullness of grace and truth, the fullness of Christ’s presence, then Jesus failed and the world hasn’t been saved. We believe and proclaim to this day that there is a Church in which the fullness of grace and truth, which resides in Christ, is made accessible to human beings. The Church is salvation; the Church is eternal life in its deepest and fullest sense. This salvation is in the Orthodox Church.”

AGAIN Magazine, June 1988, pp. 11-12

Many thanks to St. Columba’s Church for the text of this article.